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ONE FAIRLY popular misconception of chess players sees us as "absent- minded professors": a stereotype no more verisimilitudinous in most cases than the "psychopathic axeman who sublimates his rage on the 64 squares". The originally Ukranian - now Slovenian in chess nationality - Grandmaster Alexander Beliavsky from Lvov generally embodies neither of these characteristics, being sweet natured and practical, though grimly determined at the board. But he managed a good impersonation of both earlier this week at the start of his six-game match with French superstar Etienne Bacrot .

Bacrot, who's only 16, became the youngest player ever to qualify for the Grandmaster title in March 1997, though he's since been superseded by Ukranian Ruslan Ponomariov (and no doubt the new European under-18 champion, Teimur Radjabov from Baku in Azerbaijan, only 12, will soon be hard on Ponmariov's track).

This is Bacrot's 4th annual match against a world-class player in the town of Albert, close to his home, following a magnificent 5-1 victory against Vassily Smyslov in 1996, 4-2 to Victor Korchnoi in 1997 and 3.5 -2.5 to Bacrot aginst Robert Hubner in 1998.

Beliavsky's archetypal gymnastics started when he took a Eurostar from Brussels intending to change at Lille before going on to Albert which is about 50 miles north of Paris. Unfortunately, he overslept and had to go (no doubt at the usual speed of a drowsy snail) all the way to London before turning round and arriving at Albert four hours late for the drawing of lots for colours in which he got Black in the first.

That was drawn fairly peacefully, but in the second the axeman emerged to take victory in a mere 17 moves: The theory on this line is just evolving at the moment. After 10.d5, Beliavsky with this game, has struck a fairly serious blow against 10...b4: but the other moves 10...Bb7 and 10...cxd5 11.cxd5 Nb6 are also currently under some pressure.

In positions like this, White should generally try to get castled whatever the immediate implications and then attack. So I wondered about 13...cxb2 trying to get in ...Bb4+ soon but 14.Qxb2 Qe6 15.Nd4!? Qxe4 16.0-0 is pretty dangerous. 16... Qb7? lost at once. The obvious improvement is 16...Bb7 but after 17.Nxc6 Qa3 18.Qb5! Ba6 both the obvious 19.Qe5+ and the spectacular 19.Bb8 Be7 (not 19...Bd6 or 19...Nd7 both met by 20.Qe5+!) 20.Qe5 Kf8 21.Nxe7 c2 22.Bd6 cxd1Q+ 23. Bxd1 should win. At the end, 17...Kxd8 18.Nxc6+ nets the queen.

Alkexander Beliavsky v Etienne Bacrot Albert 1999 (Game 2)Queen's Gambit Semi-Slav